The border city of Munich was a revelation for Sister Brita Konstantin. As the train slid into its morning berth in the bustling Hauptbahnhauf, she felt like she had entered a different world. She had imagined that all cities mirrored the capital, a place of order and piety, dark stone and darker looks. As a Franciscan nurse she had oft travelled into New Rome to work the clinics and hospitals. The capital city was a drab and solemn municipality. The Church’s desire for cleanliness had resulted in sterility. Levity was hard to find in the shadow of the Vatican.
Munich, by comparison, proved to be a wonderfully gritty place. The ragged crowds moving through the station were a lively bunch, shouting greetings to familiar faces as they went about their business. Performers drew small crowds in out of the way corners with music, dancing and sleight of hand. Strangers laughed and argued playfully. Even here though, pockets of sullen quiet could be found around the frequent police personnel, uniformed in the livery of the local bishop.
Open mouthed, Brita soaked in the novel experience. A man pushing a cart of handbags noticed her amazed stare and began approaching, but swiftly retreated under her brother’s dark glare. She shivered. It was colder than she was used to here. Even inside the station she was grateful for the thick clothing Frederick had insisted she bring. Pulling her coat tighter, Brita glanced at her companion as he stood on the platform, dark eyes ceaselessly scanning the chaos for danger. In many ways the sad, bad, mad man she found herself traveling with was a mystery.
When their father died, all his energies had been spent keeping them both alive. After the Judgment, there was plenty of need for skilled labor rebuilding the city but little money available for a child. It was only a matter of time before he failed to make rent on their father’s flat and they were living on the street. There was work, of a sort, available for desperate young boys in secret houses of ill-repute that catered to a very specific type of clientele, but Konstantin never made that difficult choice. He resorted to stealing scraps from the local vendors in an attempt to keep Brita fed and healthy. Eventually he pilfered one meal too many and drew the attentions of the Church’s enforcers. Brita knew the punishments for thievery were severe, but he never spoke of his time in the dungeons. His torturers must have seen something in their defiant young captive however, for when he emerged it was in the robes of an acolyte. He had changed more than his dress too. The child who entered had been replaced by someone ancient in the ways of pain. Young Brita herself, as a female, was of no use to the Inquisition, and was taken in by the kindly Franciscans. She saw little of her brother after that.
Moved by a sudden impulse she stepped toward him, gripping his hand tightly in her own like she used to as a child. Startled, he looked down at her, suspicion flaring in his dark eyes.
“Thank you for helping me Frederick. I can’t tell you how good it is to see you, even like this. I’ve missed you terribly.” Standing on her tiptoes she brushed her older brother’s cheek with her lips before looking away shyly.
With his free hand Konstantin touched the cheek his sister had kissed, his glower momentarily faltering. For a brief instant they were children again, their biggest worry being whether their father would catch them breaking curfew. For that one instant, standing in a hostile city, pursued by terrible forces, Frederick Konstantin smiled. When he grinned, years seemed to melt away, leaving behind the face Brita remembered. A moment later and he recalled where they were. Like an errant sun beam eclipsed by storm clouds Konstantin’s grin failed and his frown returned.
Extricating his captured hand, he turned with a grunt. “Come on, we’ve got a long walk ahead of us.”
Brita stood for another heartbeat watching her brother depart. Hunching her head against the cold she hurried after.
Inquisitor-Brother Solomon Rex noted that from this angle the girl looked like she was merely sleeping. The Inquisitor leaned forward in the chair, placing his elbows on his knees and his hands under his chin. The child was on the bed in the fetal position, covered to the chest by blankets. The only detail breaking the illusion of sleep was a faint bluish tinge to her exposed skin and the complete stillness one can achieve only in death. Inquisitor Rex knew that if he were to move around to the other side of the bed he would find the girl’s eyes open, staring blankly at the wall. He also knew there would be a long knife slid delicately between the lasses ribs piercing her heart. Solomon Rex had put it there.
He felt the mildest twinge of regret. He was not usually so forceful with his playthings. Not anymore. He knew he would be chastised for the girl’s death. After his meeting with the tribunal the night before however, he had been overcome with excitement. Reflecting on what he had learned now sent shivers of pleasure down his spine. The Inquisitor moaned softly as he thought about it. Down in their chamber of fire, the mysterious robed figures had given him surprising news. Inquisitor-Brother Konstantin had gone rogue. Worse, he had released a witch into the world where she could work her evil. Rex was charged with apprehending the witch, so that she might stand trial for her crimes. Konstantin was to be killed. He shivered again. The Inquisition was, by necessity, an insular group, and the active inquisitors were a competitive lot. He knew of Konstantin, knew this would be a challenging chase. Solomon Rex was looking forward to it. His brothers would over look this momentary breach in decorum with the girl. They always did. Prior to his capture and re-education, he had been a serial killer, a monster. Now, he was a monster with a purpose. As long as he continued getting results in the field, his inquisitorial brethren found it convenient to look the other way when he sometimes lapsed into his old habits.
Gripping the arms of his chair, the Inquisitor stood swiftly. His shaven head came dangerously close to brushing the ceiling of the chamber. Rex was huge, almost seven feet of corded muscle. His massive arms and barrel chest were densely tattooed with scripture from the Malleus Maleficarum. Solomon Rex lived for hunting witches. His quarry often underestimated him because of his barbaric exterior. They eventually found out that beneath the muscular frame was a quick and agile mind. By the time they realized their mistake Solomon already had them. He worked hard to keep both body and mind performing at their peak. For Solomon Rex, perfection was the only option.
He felt that he was closer than ever to achieving his goal. Recently God himself had begun speaking in his dreams, reassuring him that he was special. He knew that this hunt for the rogue brother was another of God’s tests.
Solomon scratched idly between his shoulder blades, huge muscles knotting and unknotting. The skin over his back was feeling dry and uncomfortable. He resolved to stop by the apothecary before he left in order to get a soothing cream. Kneeling, he laced up his boots over his heavy pants. Then he reached into his closet and pulled out heavy black robes to cover his bare torso. Solomon never wore shirts while he hunted. He preferred to intimidate his quarry with the site of his righteous tattoos. Reaching into the closet once more he pulled out a combat shotgun and checked the action. Perfect. Satisfied he slung this over his shoulder. Crouching down on the balls of his feet he reached under the bed, pulling out a finely polished cherry-wood case. The box was nearly four feet long, with an inscription etched across the top in Latin. Unlatching it revealed a purple velvet interior. Sitting on the plush fabric was an enormous double-headed war hammer. Rex reverently ran his huge hands over the weapon. The head was a block of solid steel inscribed with silver crosses. The shaft was titanium alloy with a leather wrapped grip. The book of his order, the Malleus Maleficarum translates roughly from Latin to mean the Hammer Against Witches. It had been written centuries before by the honored Inquisitors Kramer and Sprenger as a manual for exposing and convicting heretics. Post-Judgment its lessons had been embraced by the Church like never before. Solomon had taken a more literal interpretation. Nothing brought him more pleasure than turning the heretic into jelly with his very own Witches’ hammer.
Hefting the solid instrument in a meaty paw, he gazed for a time into the dead child’s eyes. Solomon wondered what she saw. Leaning over he gently kissed the girl’s forehead. The girl remained staring, her ashen face forever frozen in a grimace of pain and terror. Inquisitor-Brother Solomon Rex lumbered out of the room. He had an appointment to keep with someone in the dungeons. Whistling cheerily, he jogged down the hall, enthusiastic about his new hunt.
Konstantin walked through the streets of Munich, angry at himself for being distracted by the witch. In the deepest recesses of his mind there still lurked a small kernel of the boy he had once been, and the more time he spent with his sister the harder it got to repress. He quickened his stride. The sooner he cured the girl, the better.
The hunter walked invisibly among the inhabitants of the city. He was one with his surroundings, the apex predator of the concrete jungle.
They were passing through Marienplatz square in the shadow of the ancient Frauenkirche Cathedral. Konstantin had always made it a point to stop here during his hunts for a moment of quiet reflection. He enjoyed looking at the paintings in the Cathedral. They weren’t all gruesome. This time he simply lowered his head and hurried past. The Frauenkirche housed a branch of the Inquisition, and he felt no desire to deliver his sister back into their hands. Only when they reached the far edge of the square did he slow his stride. He thought that his ruse with the train was working, but knew it would not last forever. Before approaching the man in the ticket booth at Termini Station, he’d had his sister pay a street child to buy them tickets for the Munich train at one of the electronic kiosks. The homeless in the capital held little love for the soldiers of the church. They would avoid speaking to the Guard. Having long ago been captured by them himself, he could appreciate the sentiment. For the moment his location should be a secret from their hunters, but his was not an unknown face in this part of the world. Eventually, he might be recognized. Konstantin hoped to be done with his business in the city before that occurred.
The hunter was hungry. Like a wraith he lurked in the darkness searching for his prey. His gaze settled on an unfamiliar couple entering his territory. The hunter’s breathe quickened. He would eat well this night.
Feeling the familiar beginning of hunger working its way through his abdomen, he checked his watch and was pleased to see that it was still before noon. Beckoning his sister to follow, he moved to one of the snack carts lining the edge of the square and placed an order. Noticing Brita’s confused glance he explained. “Weisswurst traditionally stops being sold after twelve. We’re lucky to have gotten here early enough.”
Her look did not abate. She had never been to Germany, and could not speak their language. “It is a white sausage;” he continued, “you eat it with sweet mustard and pretzels.” Retrieving his order, he offered a plate to his sister while saying a quick grace. She wrinkled her nose at the dish, tapping the sausage experimentally with a finger. Still uncertain she crossed herself and slowly took a bite. Konstantin hid a smile as her face brightened and she began eating enthusiastically.
The hunter stalked his prey, willing them to leave the public areas for someplace quieter, where his strike would go unnoticed.
Still nibbling on his snack, he led them out of the square down one of the quieter avenues. Munich was a city of industry now; factories ran day and night to supply the war machine of the faith. Thick smokestacks constantly belched soot into the atmosphere, coating everything in a ubiquitous layer of filth. Through the corner of his eye, Konstantin watched his sister stick her tongue out to catch some of the floating grime, and then gag on the chemical taste.
“It’s not snow,” he said, pointing to the looming stacks. “It’s ash from the factories. The city is covered in it.”
“How can people live like this?” she asked incredulously.
“Simple. They do not have a choice. They can either live within the protection of the Church’s cities, or die in the wilds. A little grime is a reasonable price to pay for safety.”
The hunter was pleased. His prey had been stupid to enter his city. They would now pay for their trespass. Coiling his body like a great spring the hunter struck with bared teeth and grasping claws.
Trailing a pace behind, the only warning Brita had that they were under attack was a blur of movement at the edge of her perception. Before she could gasp a warning, a small body burst out from a side alleyway, streaking toward her brother with frightening speed. There was no way he could possibly see the attack coming, but at the last moment he spun and in one fluid movement, somehow swept his assailant off his feet with one hand, while drawing a pistol with the other. Stomping down a booted foot, he pinned their attacker to the ground, where it kept twisting and striking wildly until he put a bullet in the ground near its head. Now that it was still, Brita was surprised to see that it was a young boy dressed all in gray, the ash covering his body from head to toe creating a perfect natural camouflage. At the moment, fat tears were tracing streaks through the grime as the child groveled under Konstantin’s heavy boot.
“Why did you try to kill me?” Konstantin growled menacingly. The boy’s eyes stared fixedly up the barrel of the gun held above his face. Working his jaw, it took a moment before words began to spill out.
“Please, I would never kill anyone, I swear. I thought you was tourists; I was only trying to get some money so I could buy some food. Please, I’m hungry.”
Konstantin shifted his grip on the handgun, bringing it down until it hovered just above the child’s forehead.
“Perhaps you wouldn’t kill anyone. Perhaps you would. I don’t know. What I do know is that I have killed before. And I have no problem doing it again.”
Brita had seen enough. Shoving her brother off the child she knelt down, pulling his frail frame to her body. Skinny arms wrapped around her neck as the boy pressed his dirty hair to her shoulder, smearing ash and tears across her coat.
“Shame on you Frederick Konstantin! How dare you threaten this poor boy?”
“He tried to rob us Brita.”
“He’s hungry! Look at him, he’s skin and bones. There was once a time when we were hungry children Frederick. Remember? Were you so different than him?”
Rocking the child back and forth, she gently stroked his hair as she glared up at her brother. As he stared down at her with his cold dark eyes she became frightened that he would carry out his threat, her intervention or no. Instead he heaved a heavy sigh, and turning away he returned his weapon to its low slung holster.
Pulling the sniffling boy away from her shoulder she stood him up in front of her. Reaching into an inner pocket she produced a handful of church coin, pressing it into his cold little hands.
“Here little one. Get yourself some food and find a warm place to spend the night. It’s going to be cold.”
Smiling broadly the youth gave her a desperate hug before scampering back into the alleyway from whence he came. Standing up she brushed some soot from her coat, fully expecting an angry lecture from her stern sibling. Instead he only gave her a strange look before gesturing for her to move on.
They continued walking through the city, coats pulled tight against the chill, boots leaving prints in the ash behind them. After what seemed like hours of trudging through the industrial sector they stopped at an unmarked alleyway barred by a high gate. As they stood, three ragged figures she had thought to be bums detached themselves from the wall they had been lounging against and encircled her brother. Brita could see the glint of automatic weapons held underneath their coats. Guns were rarer now, and the Church did its best to regulate their distribution, but as always, in their hurry to kill each other men found ways around the restrictions.
“Move along witch-hunter,” The largest one spat through a nearly toothless mouth. “You know bad things happen to your kind when they get lost in there.”
“Not going to happen,” Konstantin replied calmly. Brita did not like how the three were fidgeting with their guns, nor did she like the way one-tooth was looking at her.
“Frederick…” She began a warning, but before she could finish, he began speaking quietly in German. She had no idea what he was saying, speaking only the hodgepodge of Latin and Italian that served as the common tongue of the Empire herself, but the three became noticeably paler, and the big one pointedly shifted his gaze away from admiring her feminine attributes. She did recognize when her brother said his own name. Under Konstantin’s stare the thugs seemed to wilt, and when he casually pointed his finger at the anemic looking man on the left he leapt to open the gate. Taking her hand Konstantin entered the unbarred passageway, pausing at the threshold to glare once more at the guards.
“Frederick, what did you say to those men?”
“Oh, I simply convinced them I was quite mad.”
Looking at her brother’s unsettling eyes, Brita was not sure of his sanity herself. As they proceeded down the alleyway she heard what seemed to be a party in progress at the far end. The passage expelled them on the edge of a huge rave. A diverse mass of humanity gyrated wildly in the street to the throbbing beat of trance music blaring from enormous speakers. The ever present pollutant fog which hovered over the city kept the area dark even at midday, and the effect was furthered by thick clouds of narcotic smoke oozing out of the various cafes and clubs lining the labyrinth. Laser lights and neon signs penetrated the haze, pulsing with the cacophonous music.
Brita felt her jaw drop open. Never in her young life had she ever seen something to compare. She had no idea places like this even existed. There were literally thousands of people. Leaning close, he brother shouted in her ear.
“Welcome to the Kultfabrik, Munich’s twenty-four hour party. You can find anything you imagine in here, for a price. This is where the workers of the city come to waste their pay and forget their troubles.”
Brita swallowed. “Frederick, what in the world could we possibly need in a place like this?”
He smiled a humorless smile.
“Not even the Church comes back here without serious muscle. We currently find ourselves at odds with our employer. A place that intimidates them sounds like a good place to start to me.”
Keeping a good grip on her hand, he began negotiating the sea of people. Any slack jawed, wild-eyed reveler that stumbled into his path received a swift fist or elbow for their trouble. At the cost of some new bruises, and having a man in a jester’s cap spill something sticky and foul smelling across his boots they reached their destination. This particular building’s interior was even darker than outside, with heavy metal music leaking out into the street. Above the door, a triangular banner hung depicting a raven in flight. Its rounded outside edge had a series of tassels upon which the words thought and memory were stenciled.
The doorman was obviously of Scandinavian descent, he had the tall stature and light hair of a north man. At the moment he was distracted by a woman in a scandalously short skirt who appeared to be in very real danger of toppling over in her stiletto heels. Even as the bouncer watched her teeter down the stairs into the building, he laid a thick arm across Konstantin’s chest.
“Welcome to the Black Raven, it’s ten to enter.” He stopped abruptly. He had finally looked up at who he was restraining. His eyes bulged grotesquely and a strange croak escaped his mouth.
“Konstantin,” the bouncer hissed.
Frederick Konstantin smiled a humorless smile. “Good afternoon.” Grabbing the man’s long hair, he slammed his head against the brick wall, knocking the Nord out and dropping him where he stood. Then, offering an arm to his flabbergasted sister, he stepped down into the darkness.
Giuseppe Moretti was crying. He had been asleep, dreaming sweet Giuseppe dreams about the beautiful blonde woman that had smiled at him the day earlier. Then before he knew it was happening masked men had broken down the door to his modest flat, pulled him from his room and bundled him into a waiting van. Blindfolded and bound he had been brought to this room, stripped and left with his wrists chained to an iron ring in the ceiling. For a man of his size standing in that position was torture. His feet had long ago gone numb, but his shoulders, hips and knees felt like they were on fire. He was a simple man but he had enough imagination to know that he was in trouble. Giuseppe stood in the dark and soaked his blindfold with tears.
In his misery Giuseppe could not hear anyone enter the room above the mandatory Church radio broadcast piping through wall mounted speakers, until rough hands tugged the blindfold down around his neck. Squinting through his tears he found himself facing the most terrifying person he had ever seen. The man was huge, bare-chested, and covered in horrifying tattoos. He had the lumpy physique of a body builder but there was a terrible intelligence in his eyes. He was now studying Giuseppe like a side of beef at auction.
“Hello friend. My name is Solomon Rex. You are Giuseppe Moretti the ticket seller, yes?”
Giuseppe sniffed through his tears. The man sounded pleasant enough, maybe he was here to explain that there had been some sort of mistake.
“Yes sir, my name is Giuseppe. I work at the train station.”
The huge man smiled. Giuseppe tried to smile back.
“I’m so very glad to meet you Mr. Moretti. I can tell that getting to know you is going to be a real pleasure.” His smile widened. “Do you know where you are Mr. Moretti?”
Giuseppe’s smile quivered. “No sir, I’m not certain.”
The man was grinning from ear to ear now. “Why Mr. Moretti, you’re in the Inquisition’s dungeon.”
Giuseppe fainted. When he awoke it took him a moment to realize why he was now standing in a warm pool of liquid. Giuseppe Moretti had peed himself.
The man with the tattoos was facing away from him, fidgeting with something on a wooden table against the wall. Over his shoulder he spoke to the captive ticket man.
“Do you know why you are here dear Mr. Moretti?” Before Giuseppe could respond he answered his own question. “It is because of the Inquisitor and the girl that bought tickets from you yesterday. It seems that they were not on the train you said they would be on.”
Giuseppe began whimpering. “Please sir, how was I to know he would not get on the train? I’m just a ticket seller; I have no way of knowing where he went.”
The Inquisitor chuckled. “No, of course you don’t. You are quite innocent.” Giuseppe sagged in relief. “Unfortunately for you, I really want to find those two. This little mix-up with the train has wasted my time. I am afraid wasting my time brings me great displeasure. The way I see it Mr. Moretti, you owe me. I happen to know just how I am going to collect.”
He turned toward Giuseppe, showing him what he had been playing with on the table. Giuseppe’s body turned to ice. It was an enormous hammer. As the Inquisitor flexed his massive muscles, bringing the weapon above his head Giuseppe began screaming. With a harsh grunt he swung and Giuseppe’s world exploded.
Long after the bloody ruin that had once been Giuseppe Moretti stopped screaming the Inquisitor ended his vicious assault. Standing over the pile of gore, covered from head to toe in blood he shivered with pleasure, his erection pressing painfully against the inside of his pants. Solomon Rex breathed a long sigh of content. He had been right. Getting to know the ticket man had been a pleasure.